Category: Organizing

National Adjunct Walkout Day at the Grad Center

NAWD best group shot

Today was National Adjunct Walkout Day (NAWD), a first-of-its-kind grassroots action in which some adjuncts at colleges and universities across the country walked out of their classroom in protest of their—our—unfair pay and working conditions as second-tier faculty.

At CUNY, no adjuncts walked out due to New York State’s 1967 Taylor Law, which prohibits public employees from striking (though at a Professional Staff Congress Graduate Center chapter meeting over lunch today, Stanley Aronowitz made an impassioned plea to break the Taylor Law in order to break the our contract-bargaining impasse with the state, which hasn’t okayed an economic offer yet).

Instead, adjuncts, graduate employees, and other faculty taught about academic labor and adjunctification in their classes (resources to do so, anytime), tabled in common spaces on their campuses, and held meetings, departmental and otherwise, to discuss the significance of NAWD and the adjunct struggle broadly.

At the Graduate Center, the CUNY Adjunct Project collaborated with GC students to make and hold a banner in front of the GC’s entrance pointing out that, while adjuncts make up 59% of CUNY’s total faculty, they’re only paid 29%-38% of what full-time faculty are paid. In addition to the banner, we created a flyer (see it below) that provided more data and analysis, and which explained the Taylor Law and its effects, to hand out to both GC students, faculty, and visitors as well as passersby on the busy block on which the GC is located, just north of the Empire State Building. A few PSC organizers also joined us and handed out an additional flyer that amplified the message of the day.

We held the banner and flyered from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at which point we went upstairs to the aforementioned chapter lunch meeting (an important opportunity to share news and discuss various labor matters). No doubt we would’ve reached more people if we’d stayed longer, especially given the uptick in people traffic as the lunch rush continued, but we gave out 400+ flyers in the hour we were there, a decent result. And the banner’s being used again for an action at CUNY’s Hostos Community College on Friday, as part of National Adjunct Action/Awareness Week, the longer-duration event NAWD gave rise to.

People already have been asking us what’s next. Let us know what you’d like to see happen, and if you’d like to be involved in making it happen, in the comments to this post.

Below is the flyer we handed out, as well as a short video of the action and additional photos. If you’d like to amplify the action, use the hashtags listed in the flyer and post to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.

CUNYAdjunctProject NAWD flyer


NAWD street shot w Jenn

NAWD looking downtown

NAWD street shot head

NAWD banner Jon and Sean

NAWD banner Erin

Resisting Precarity: Remarks for the #MLAsubcon

Vending machine #mlasubconFollowing are the remarks I prepared for the closing plenary of the MLA Subconference last Thursday, on which I appeared, on behalf of the CUNY Adjunct Project, with Chris Newfield of the University of California–Santa Barbara, Kyle Shafer of Unite Here!, and Jimmy Casas Klausen of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Though I veered from these particular words—I’d quickly handwritten them, in my near illegible script—the views are the same as I expressed in person, as you’ll see on the archived livestream (which you should check for the other panelists’ remarks and subsequent discussion).

The photo above, by Lee Skallerup Bessetteshows an image, presented by Shafer, of hospitality workers in a vending machine—a specific depiction of how capitalism renders people in general: disposable. If we are to resist precarity, we must resist capitalism and its various deployments, as I try to show. —Sean M. Kennedy

First of all, and again, I want to thank the organizers of this very generative convening. Thank you all for inviting the CUNY Adjunct Project to appear, and thank you for your generously donated labor. And, frankly, it shouldn’t be our job, as graduate students, to change the university. We have enough other things to do—research, write, teach, attend conferences on money we don’t have—the list goes on—that we don’t have time, let alone resources, to solve all the problems facing higher education too. But since the people with available time and resources—tenured faculty and faculty unions, administrators, disciplinary organizations and other academic bodies—apparently have no interest, nor ability, to fix these issues, doing so must be our work as well. And so I thank everyone here in this newly formed collective, and I look forward to continuing this mobilization, in particular in coordinating actions across our various campuses between now and next year’s gathering in Vancouver.

I also want to note my regret that Marc Bousquet can’t be with us tonight as expected. Not only is he an alumnus of my very program at the CUNY Graduate Center, but his longstanding analyses of academic capitalism, particularly in How the University Works, have provided an important foundation for my own views on the political economy of U.S. higher education. Indeed, I love to quote his remark that the PhD holder is now the “waste product of graduate education,” especially at department-wide meetings in which most attendees, professors and students alike, look at me like I’m crazy. But Marc is dead on about the expendability of laborers, who are eliminated, both symbolically and materially, under global capitalism. What is a prison, after all, except the housing of waste—of incapacitated workers deliberately left behind by the structural adjustment that has battered specific U.S. communities since Reagan? What is imperial war, of which the U.S. is the reigning arbiter, except the incapacitating of communities around the world?

Prison and war frame my remarks tonight not just because of their central relationships to U.S. governmentality and capital accumulation but also due to my institutional and geographic locations at the City University of New York, whose students are subjected to the whims of campus security when they’re not being terrorized by the NYPD through its racist, violent stop-and-frisk program. Although the police target black and brown men, the costs of stop-and-frisk—and prisons at large—to individuals and neighborhoods are countless. And when youth of color make it to CUNY—that is, if they’re not pushed out earlier by the school-to-prison pipeline or the brutal testing regime (both of which line the pockets of corporate executives and investors)—they are now offered a dubious stability in the form of military service, as CUNY has welcomed back ROTC after a 41-year absence—a military that has historically preyed upon the multiracial working class. Meanwhile, U.S. imperialism, safeguarded by the military, and the sturdy hegemony of the American dream continue to make New York City a hub for numerous diasporic communities. Indeed, the diversity of oppressed nationalities in the city led the American Enterprise Institute to recommend CUNY as a recruiting ground.

I was asked to speak tonight on one aspect of precarity, and how to resist it, and as this sketch of issues at CUNY indicates, I want to highlight the critical necessity of intersectional analysis and organizing. In other words, there can be no single-issue activism or research. At CUNY, the myriad intersecting issues—and I only briefly outlined a few—make it impossible to address change without also addressing the full complex of problems that jointly maintain the status quo. And this is the case across higher education, given the university’s deep entanglement with processes and histories of colonialism, racialized social control, and oppression.

In practice, what this means for me, as an organizer for the CUNY Adjunct Project, is that I must also organize with and alongside organizers for racial and economic justice broadly, since academic labor, like labor at large, is shaped by structural forces that delimit not just equal opportunity but equal resources as well. It means I must collaborate with and stand beside organizers working to end stop-and-frisk, since that affects the students I teach as contingent faculty and the colleagues I work with inside and outside of class. It means I must work in concert with organizers demanding an end to the militarization of CUNY and its appointment of war-criminal David Petraeus, overseer of death squads and torture in Iraq and drones at the CIA. It means showing up at hearings and rallies for comrades disciplined by City College and turned over to the law on allegations of “almost” inciting a riot for protesting the seizure of the Morales/Shakur Community and Student Center, an autonomous space won by black and Puerto Rican people—students and residents of Harlem working together—in their—our—still-ongoing struggle to decolonize CUNY. It means demanding a parental-leave policy for Graduate Center student workers—currently none exists—so that they don’t have to forfeit their teaching fellowships if they want to care for their newborn children. Again, the list goes on.

I am one of four phenotypically white, cisgender men on this panel tonight, an observation I make not to criticize but to think through critically. Indeed, this room is primarily white, and as such reproduces the prevailing whiteness of the academy, and marks how much work needs to be done to rectify the racial injustices of higher education. But we—and I mean those of us who are white, with all our racial privilege—need to be part of that work. Similar to how we want tenured faculty to use their privilege, and resources, to help us contingent faculty end the two-tier system of academic labor and concomitant exploitation—one of the many themes of this conference—those of us with the capital granted to us by white privilege must spend it—all of it—for the sake of racial justice. That is to say, we must work against our privilege, to undo it, akin to how my mentors at the Revolutionary Students Coordinating Committee, or RSCC—the rhyme with SNCC is deliberate—urge “class suicide” of the bourgeoisie, petit and grande. Only when whiteness is eliminated, and the capital it has accumulated by dispossession is returned, will there be an end to precarity.

In other words, we must fully reckon with the settler colonialism and chattel slavery on which the U.S. was founded and which destroyed communities—of people, of thought, of practice—all over the world. These paired legacies are alive at CUNY, as they are everywhere. As such, I believe we must reclaim the notion of contingency so that it names radical possibility as much as it does material vulnerability. The contingency I imagine would allow us to choose the labor we want to do, be with the people with whom we want to be, govern ourselves in the ways we want to be governed, travel to where we want to travel, and take care of one another in the manner in which we want to be taken care of. Legacies of such collective determination are also alive, even if they’re often demoted to “cultural differences” by the dominant communities of the global metropole.

At the same time, we must also remember that the institutions that discipline us are precarious, as yesterday’s presentation on private-bond-funded, tuition-backed campus construction showed. But when a protest can increase interest rates—and attendant debt-service payments that can run into the millions—it gives universities even more reason to crack down on dissent, as we have seen happen this last semester at CUNY, which is now codifying such repression.

Again, we must contend with militarization, and the capitalism it protects—and the communities harmed by both. To counter this violence, in the present and historically, we need to organize across divides and resist the colonial logic of separation. Only then will we be resisting precarity too.

(Cross-posted to Sean’s website.)

Campus Equity Week, Oct. 28-Nov. 2

CEW13Campus Equity Week is a nationwide event to raise awareness of the inequitable state of academic labor, as well as related issues, such as the student debt crisis and the corporatization of the university.

This week, please consider teaching one of our lesson plans or assigning an article about adjuncting to your students. Also, pick up a button bearing one of the two logos shown here from your program lounge, the office of the Doctoral Students’ Council (room 5495), or our office door (room 5498) at the Graduate Center. When your students ask what the scarlet “A” stands for, tell them what it means to be an adjunct. The article about Margaret Mary Vojtko, “Death of an Adjunct,” can be found here.

As part of our efforts, we are also assembling a IAmMargaretM-copydelegation to speak to Interim President Robinson about late pay during his office hours on Wed., Oct. 30, at 4 pm in room 8201.06.

Finally, in order to increase the collective power of GC adjuncts in our union, the Professional Staff Congress, we are striving to fill the seats of the GC chapter, which are currently vacant. Please consider filling out a union card, which can be found on our office door, with The Graduate Center as your affiliation, or email us if you are interested in serving on the GC union slate.

Thank you for helping us work toward a more equitable future!

In solidarity,

The AP Team


Stephanie Luce on Living-Wage and Adjunct Organizing

Stephanie Luce imagePlease join us for our first event of the semester when we welcome Stephanie Luce, associate professor of labor studies at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, on Thursday, September 12th, 5 p.m., in 5409 of the CUNY Graduate Center. Luce (pictured), a sociologist by training, researches living-wage movements—she’ll be speaking on that topic as well as on her experiences in adjunct and higher-ed organizing. She’s the author of Fighting for a Living Wage (ILR Press, 2004), a critical history of various living-wage campaigns across the U.S., and the co-author of A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the United States (ILR Press, 2008) and The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy (The New Press, 1998). The talk will be followed by a Q&A/discussion and reception.

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